CFOs Don’t Want You Wasting Time on CPE While Clocked-in

By | July 20, 2017

Summer is a great time to dust off the mental cobwebs and do some CPE. Hey, it’s better than trying to squeeze hours in around holiday time. Extreme procrastination before the year-end CPE deadline always makes for a dull New Year’s Eve.

And, since it’s better to knock your hours out early, why not eat up some of your down time at the office this summer with a training charge code? These days most employers spring for that, don’t they? I know my former firm did. The Big 4 firms have long embraced extravagant training programs as a part of their culture. I can’t think of many other organizations that build $430 million training campuses.

My perception is skewed, however. Companies typically don’t spring for CPE on company time based on a recent Robert Half survey of over 2,200 companies. In fact, only about 1 in 4 CFOs allow all employees to fulfill CPE requirements at work. Another 24% said it “depends on the employee.”

That results in half of the sample indicating that they “rarely or never let any staff take classes during business hours.”

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CPE has its place in the office

To me, it seems like a no-brainer for execs to support the pursuit of CPE. Skills have a tendency to atrophy, especially if the CPA exam is a distant memory. Regularly participating in CPE keeps technical chops sharp, and with all the new pronouncements dropping, it’s a logical way to encourage staff to stay current.

Paul McDonald, Senior Executive Director at Robert Half, also takes this stance and believes that:

Businesses do themselves a disservice by prohibiting employees from taking CPE courses during company time.

For instance, McDonald argues that “the better informed your employees are, the fewer technical, compliance and ethical mistakes they’re likely to make… and is a powerful recruitment and retention tool.”

Bonus: Tax deductions for CPE

From a tax perspective, companies can win with employee education tax deductions. A Journal of Accountancy article breaks down some of the rules, which haven’t changed much since it was published in 2004. The key highlight is that Section 127 allows employers to deduct $5,250 annually per employee if education benefits are “provided by reason of their employment relationship.” The catch is, it must be a formal plan open to everyone.

Some of the other code sections also encourage additional ways to provide education benefits, such as offering a tax-free working condition fringe benefit to employees, but these give the tax break to the employee rather than an employer.

While the tax deductions may be nice, many employers think it’s too much work since “plans can be costly and burdensome for employers to administer.”

Is CPE a waste of company time?

So, what gives. Why are so many CFOs opposed to letting staff obtain CPE on their time? I have a hunch it has to do with the current CPE offerings. Who hasn’t clicked through a computer-based training to get their passing score and relaxed for the remainder of their 50 minute CPE credit hour? CFOs who don’t bother with CPE might just think their staff wouldn’t get much out of the training anyway. If they’re willing to do CPE on their own time, maybe they will be more invested in it, and retain more of it.

To combat this problem, some states support Nano CPE. These 10-minute CPE chunks make it much less likely you will zone out completely and make more sense in a business environment to teach specific skills required in real time. Too bad most states haven’t adopted it.

Until CFOs start to see the intrinsic value in training their staff, the verdict is still out. We’ll have to be satisfied with a 50/50 shot that your company will let you vegetate in front of a webinar at your desk. But, hey, there’s always your lunch hour. Who doesn’t love a good ol’ Lunch-n-Learn? Oh, right: Caleb.

Image: Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash